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Pro-Darwin Biology Professor Laments Academia’s “Intolerance” and Supports Teaching Intelligent Design

Casey Luskin

Charles Darwin famously said, “A fair result can be obtained only by fully balancing the facts and arguments on both sides of each question.” According to a recent article by J. Scott Turner, a pro-Darwin biology professor at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, New York, modern Neo-Darwinists are failing to heed Darwin’s advice.

(We blogged about a similar article by Turner in The Chronicle of Higher Education in January, 2007.) Turner is up front with his skepticism of intelligent design (ID), which will hopefully allow his criticisms to strike a chord with other Darwinists.

Turner starts by observing that the real threat to education today is not ID itself, but the attitude of scientists towards ID: “Unlike most of my colleagues, however, I don’t see ID as a threat to biology, public education or the ideals of the republic. To the contrary, what worries me more is the way that many of my colleagues have responded to the challenge.” He describes the “modern academy” as “a tedious intellectual monoculture where conformity and not contention is the norm.” Turner explains that the “[r]eflexive hostility to ID is largely cut from that cloth: some ID critics are not so much worried about a hurtful climate as they are about a climate in which people are free to disagree with them.” He then recounts and laments the hostility faced by Richard Sternberg at the Smithsonian:

It would be comforting if one could dismiss such incidents as the actions of a misguided few. But the intolerance that gave rise to the Sternberg debacle is all too common: you can see it in its unfiltered glory by taking a look at Web sites like or [Jeffry Shallit’s blog] and following a few of the threads on ID. The attitudes on display there, which at the extreme verge on antireligious hysteria, can hardly be squared with the relatively innocuous (even if wrong-headed) ideas that sit at ID’s core.

(J. Scott Turner, Signs of Design, The Christian Century, June 12, 2007.)

Turner on the Kitzmiller v. Dover Case
Turner sees the Kitzmiller v. Dover case as the dangerous real-world expression of the intolerance common in the academy: “My blood chills … when these essentially harmless hypocrisies are joined with the all-American tradition of litigiousness, for it is in the hand of courts and lawyers that real damage to cherished academic ideas is likely to be done.” He laments the fact that “courts are where many of my colleagues seem determined to go with the ID issue” and predicts, “I believe we will ultimately come to regret this.”

Turner justifies his reasonable foresight by explaining that Kitzmiller only provided a pyrrhic victory for the pro-Darwin lobby:

Although there was general jubilation at the ruling, I think the joy will be short-lived, for we have affirmed the principle that a federal judge, not scientists or teachers, can dictate what is and what is not science, and what may or may not be taught in the classroom. Forgive me if I do not feel more free.

(J. Scott Turner, Signs of Design, The Christian Century, June 12, 2007.)

Turner on Education
Turner explains, quite accurately, that ID remains popular not because of some vast conspiracy or religious fanaticism, but because it deals with an evidentiary fact that resonates with many people, and Darwinian scientists do not respond to ID’s arguments effectively:

[I]ntelligent design … is one of multiple emerging critiques of materialism in science and evolution. Unfortunately, many scientists fail to see this, preferring the gross caricature that ID is simply “stealth creationism.” But this strategy fails to meet the challenge. Rather than simply lament that so many people take ID seriously, scientists would do better to ask why so many take it seriously. The answer would be hard for us to bear: ID is not popular because the stupid or ignorant like it, but because neo-Darwinism’s principled banishment of purpose seems less defensible each passing day.

(J. Scott Turner, Signs of Design, The Christian Century, June 12, 2007.)

Turner asks, “What, then, is the harm in allowing teachers to deal with the subject as each sees fit?” ID can’t be taught, he explains, because most scientists believe that “normal standards of tolerance and academic freedom should not apply in the case of ID.” He says that the mere suggestion that ID could be taught brings out “all manner of evasions and prevarications that are quite out of character for otherwise balanced, intelligent and reasonable people.”

As we noted earlier, hopefully Turner’s criticisms will strike a chord with Darwinists who might otherwise close their ears to the argument for academic freedom for ID-proponents. Given the intolerance towards ID-sympathy that Turner describes, let us also hope that the chord is heard but the strummer is not harmed.

Guillermo Dekat, a law student and legal intern with Discovery Institute, helped contribute to this blog post.


Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



J. Scott Turner